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The diversity challenge

Since this article was published we learned that Crissi Williams sadly passed away on 2 March 2022. We continue to run the article with the permission of the ITP and in memory of all Crissi's incredible work in the telecoms industry. We send our heartfelt condolences to all of Crissi's family and friends.

Crissi Williams asks, how do we fix the gender disparity in tech in 2022?

It’s an issue which is not going away. The gender gap in our industry is widening. According to the WISE campaign for gender equality in STEM, only 24 per cent of women hold STEM roles and only 28 per cent of board members are female. 

In a year where employers face the reported ‘great resignation’, and as our industry continues to develop at pace, we are facing a shortage of skilled workers needed to keep our industry growing.

Where does disparity begin?

This trend starts as far back as the classroom. We know that gender stereotypes are formed at a young age, and children can easily find themselves pigeon-holed. STEM subjects should be introduced from reception age, long before young people even think about careers at school. Learning STEM subjects with a hands-on approach is not only fun for children but can help them to develop a passion for the subject from an early age. 

We know that female students are lost on the STEM pathways by the time they reach GCSE or A-level. Why should this be the case? Could it be the distinct lack of female role models in this space?  PWC’s Women in Tech report suggests so. It found that only 3 per cent of females list tech as their first career choice and a further 78 per cent couldn’t name a famous female working in technology. The issue continues within higher education settings and universities. Only 35 per cent of STEM students in higher education in the UK are women according to STEM Women

The talent pipeline for future employers truly begins in the classroom where more emphasis is needed.  The PWC report also highlighted that more than half of females surveyed were driven by a career that would make a positive difference to the world. In an industry making a huge impact for good, surely this is another missed opportunity to inspire the next generation? 

Challenging perceptions

We, along with many partner organisations, have found that the barriers exist at every turn.  Job titles and specific wording in recruitment adverts can have a detrimental effect and put off potential candidates. We recently worked with Vorboss to help them recruit 150 fibre engineers (or customer connections specialists as they later became known). They set a target that half of these should be female. We soon discovered that by re-writing job titles, and job descriptions, we could attract some amazing candidates. These candidates would have traditionally overlooked the role simply because the job title contained the word ‘engineer’. 

The onus is also on employers to scrap their preconceived ideas too. At the Institute of Telecoms Professionals (ITP), we launched our #challengeperceptions campaign last year to highlight that IT and telecoms roles are open to everyone. We set out to prove that you can hire based on personality and train the skills. Many people still have expectations of what an engineer ‘should’ look like, including the typical educational pathway required for the role. 

Vorboss removed the requirement for previous industry experience, realising that a good attitude was a higher pre-requisite. It wasn’t easy, more than 1,500 candidates were proactively contacted and for every successful hire, on average 43 CVs were reviewed. However, by removing these prerequisites we were able to reach out to a whole new demographic, many of whom have now completed their apprenticeships and are progressing within the business.

What else should employers be doing? Offering flexible working, closing the gender pay gap and giving more transparency about diversity within the business are also key. Some of the stories we’ve heard from our Women in Tech Award winners in the past are disheartening. At some point during their careers, there have been moments where they have had to choose between having children and progressing up the career ladder. Things are changing however.  

High profile campaigns by the likes of WISE and STEMettes, along with employer-led initiatives are all paving the way. We showcase the amazing women in tech we work with across our social media channels and launched our award purely for this reason, but much work is still left to be done. 

Retaining talent 

Another challenge is retaining the female talent in our industry, and mentoring can play an important role in achieving this. Many larger employers have found that mentoring schemes have improved retention and helped to develop future leaders. 

Our Women in Tech winners tell us first-hand about the positive impact mentoring has had on them. I am a case in point, owing much of my own career success to mentoring. I joined The ITP in 2008 as Office Manager, but thanks to two female mentors my eyes were opened to the opportunities that lay ahead. For young women starting their careers it’s inspiring to work alongside a successful mentor who can help to shape and guide them. 

Finally, let’s not forget that the pandemic has opened new opportunities and forced employers to implement alternative flexible ways of working.  This has resulted in employers making huge cultural shifts; something which benefits everyone in the workplace and is arguably more attractive to women juggling commitments. 

Ultimately, careers in tech are well paid, satisfying, world changing and accessible for everyone.  

We know that the way to gain true diversity is for employers to challenge perception.  Believe in what you are doing, embrace differences and give an opportunity to someone you never would have before. The tools are there for us to make tech an appealing career choice, now we need to work together as an industry to make it a priority.

Crissi Williams is CEO at The Institute of Telecoms Professionals (ITP)


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